Are the Ramones Pop Punk?

 Johnny and Mausoleum

I was recently thinking about the difference between pop punk and punk rock. The more I dwelled upon it, the more I got curious about The Ramones. So, are the Ramones pop punk?

Here’s what I know from being a fan for decades:

The Ramones are pop punk in the sense that they loved pop music and were a punk band. But when they came on the scene, the punk subgenres didn’t exist. As such, the current definition of pop punk does not technically apply to The Ramones.

If you follow my blog, you already know that I am a really big fan of the Ramones. I consider them to be one of the most important bands of modern music.

I did a post explaining exactly why in a recent article. But suffice to say, I think they are easily one of the top 10 most important bands out there, punk or not.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Lots of people claim they were The Ramones were the first pop punk band. I don’t exactly agree with this statement… I think the reality is a bit more nuanced.

Keep reading to learn about how pop punk came to be and what makes it stand out from other punk genres. I’ll also explore a bit about what genre the Ramones fit themselves into and which is the biggest pop punk band out there.

Who Invented Pop Punk Music?

The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, The Dickies, and The Descendents are among the very first bands to play punk music with pop song structures and melodies. They paved the way for more popular pop punk bands such as Green Day and blink-182.

But to really answer this question, we have to use the power of hindsight.

First off, no single artist or band invented the pop punk genre. In fact, the term ‘pop punk’ wasn’t even used until the 80s. It was only after the punk scene had gained some steam that the different styles began to evolve and differentiate themselves from one another.

Even though they didn’t know it at the time, the Ramones laid the foundation  for the entire genre with their debut record, The Ramones. But then they really hit their stride with my favorite album, Road to Ruin, which is their 4th album.

The song I Wanna Be Sedated, in particular, epitomizes everything that pop punk came to be.

  • It’s catchy as hell.
  • It’s a bonafide party anthem.
  • It’s short, fast, and repetitive.
  • It is also one of the most covered songs in the pop punk genre.

I Wanna Be Sedated is considered the first pop punk song by many music historians.

It’s no secret that the Ramones, in general, were heavily influenced by the pop music of the 60s. They had an open fascination with the Beach Boys and were huge Beatles fans. Their songwriting was undeniably structured on the pop formulas common at the time.

Another band, the Descendents (yes, they do spell it that way), followed in the path of the Ramones and released the impressively short Milo Goes to College in 1982.

This is considered by many to be the first true pop punk album. With a bouncy sound and thoughtful lyrics, this album became an inspiration to the entire alternative music movement that followed in its wake.

Pop Punk vs. Punk Rock: What’s the Difference?

True punk rock is often angry or railing against the system or political issues. Pop punk, by comparison, is often much more light-hearted, and while it could be angry or sad, more often is catchy and happy, just played at punk speed and with loud guitars.

But what really makes pop punk pop punk? What sets it apart from punk rock to the point that it gets its own name as a genre?

Here’s what most punk fans will tell you pop punk is defined by:

  • Lyrics that deal with emotions, mental health, or relationships (topics typical of pop music). They may be funny or sarcastic.
  • Being catchy and often upbeat.
  • Songwriting that features repetitive riffs and simple composition structure (think intro, verse, chorus, musical interlude, and repeat.
  • Being listener and radio-friendly, i.e., nonoffensive, melodic, intelligible vocals and lyrics, etc.
  • It’s a polished and refined sound.
  • A focus on commercial success.

Punk rock, on the other hand, differs in that the music tends to be:

  • Focused on unpopular or controversial anti-establishment themes such as politics, social criticism, and commentary.
  • Reinventive… it does not typically follow a set formula in songwriting structure, image, or sound.
  • Innovative and not focused as much on commercial success or widespread relatability.
  • An attitude (and not just a style) that can be applied not only to the musical sound but also to the stage performance, dance style, fashion preferences, and performances of the band.
  • Described as raw and aggressive.

Ironically, perhaps, most of the attributes from both categories apply to The Ramones.

Most music aficionados that have bothered to discuss the matter sum it up by saying that punk rock is the father of every other ‘punk’ genre.

Does playing poppy songs in a punk style make it pop punk?

Yes. Playing upbeat pop songs in a punk style does make the end result pop punk. Good examples of this would range from The Dickies’ cover of Nights in White Satin, or Hüsker Dü’s cover of The Mary Tyler Moore theme Love is All Around.

I know I am not alone in this.

But this is the root of the pop punk question. If you strip away the punk (gritty vocal style, fast tempo, driving drums, etc.) and just analyze the lyrics and structure of most pop punk songs, you are essentially left with a pop song.

If you take a pop song and play it in a punk style… It’s punk. If you take a punk song and play it in a pop style, it is pop. I found two examples to illustrate my point.

First, check out this video of Mike Love from the Beach Boys playing the Ramones’ Rockaway Beach with Marky Ramone on drums.

Next, give a listen to the Ramone’s covering Surfin Safari by the Beach Boys. I know some people will argue with me on this one, but the essence of pop punk is pop music.

Did the Ramones Consider Themselves Pop Punk?

The Ramones considered themselves to be a true rock & roll band; not punk and certainly not pop punk. They wanted to save rock & roll from what it was becoming in the ’70s by stripping away the excess production and just getting back to the essence of how rock & roll started.

So what did the Ramones think of their sound? Did they think of themselves as ‘pop’ punk? Did they even consider themselves punk at all?

I had to dig around a bit to find some good quotes of the Ramones describing their own music and what it was inspired by.

Johnny Ramone once stated:

“What we did was take out everything that we didn’t like about rock & roll and use the rest, so there would be no blues influence, no guitar solos, nothing that would get in the way of the songs.”

  • And later, “We wanted to save rock & roll.”
  • At one point, Joey Ramone said, “We’re the only rock & roll band out there…”

In a 1986 article with Spin Magazine, Johnny refers to hardcore punk by saying, “I wanted to do a hardcore song (referring to Psychotherapy) to show the hardcore people that we can play as fast or faster than they can. Nobody plays faster than us.”

He later said, “I just hear it [hardcore] all sounding the same. I really don’t hear anything that’s earth-shattering or that knocks me out.”

It seems to me like the Ramones considered themselves a rock & roll band first and foremost. They knew they were punk but didn’t identify with the hardcore subgenre.

They also completely avoided the spikey punk haircuts that were popular at the time, as well as avoiding things like excess piercings, etc.

So did the Ramones consider themselves pop punk?  

I’d be willing to bet that they would have argued against that label or any label for that matter. They challenged every musical genre of their era.

Who is the Biggest Pop Punk Band?

Green Day is the most successful pop punk band. They led the wave in the 1990s of pop-oriented punk bands such as blink-182 and The Offspring, but Green Day was and continues to be more popular.

Just as the Ramones were starting to wrap things up in the mid-90s, groups like the Offspring, Blink-182, and Green Day were taking over the airwaves and enjoying commercial success the Ramones could have only ever dreamed of.

Eventually, out of that initial wave of popularity, Green Day rose to the top to become the biggest pop punk band in the world.

That being said, there has always been a friendly rivalry between Green Day and Blink-182. Or is it friendly?

I did a complete comparison of the 2 bands in a recent article, including whether or not they are friends or actual enemies.

Just click that link to read it on my site,

Though they had been around since the 80s, it was only in 1994 that they released their first major-label album, Dookie which ended up selling over 20 million copies.

It was in this era that pop punk as a genre became well defined. With the release of Dookie, the pop punk sound became truly mainstream.

Ironically, when this happened, the Ramones were headed towards retirement – which is when they became more popular than ever.

Suddenly the band had a new audience willing to buy up all of their merchandise and discover the “classic” punk recordings of the 70s.

Check out the article I wrote about why the Ramones are so popular by reading this recent article.

It’s worth a quick read to understand how they benefited from the rise of pop punk to land merchandising deals and cement their place as legends in the world of punk music.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Before Dookie 1: How Punk Became Pop (1976-87)

Conclusion

The Ramones never achieved the commercial success of pop punk’s biggest names.

Their dedicated persistence, however, was what blazed the trail that the latter groups could follow. Were the Ramones pop punk?

For a group that originally set out to save rock and roll and, in turn, revolutionized music as we know it, I don’t think that label truly does them justice.

The Ramones were something indescribable, completely unique, and groundbreaking. If anything, they were the godfathers of pop punk – along with hardcore, crust punk, emo, grunge, and alternative rock in general.


Photo which requires attribution:

Johnny and Mausoleum by Timothy Tolle is licensed under CC2.0 and was color-inverted, cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

Top Related Posts